Reporter’s Notebook: Chris Ramirez reflects on Michael Astorga interview

Posted at: 09/23/2013 9:50 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Reporter Notebook:  Admittedly, I knew interviewing Michael Astorga in level-6 prison would be controversial.  But I also knew I’ve covered some tough topics before and I have always found a way to keep the stories dignified and respectful.  I also knew that my management team would weigh in on the editorial process and help sharpen and focus the story to convey the appropriate message.  My hope is that before you form and share your opinion, you’ll take the time to watch the story in its entirety.  You’ll find KOB-TV did not in any way glorify this convicted killer.  You’ll notice we intentionally disputed any claim of innocence he made.  And I made sure that we did not uphold some sick celebrity status that would give Astorga more notoriety.

Here’s some background on how the interview came about.  More than a year ago, I wrote to Astorga and asked him for the interview.  I knew he had lied through the trial of the murder of Deputy James McGrane and no reporter was allowed access to him to call him out on those lies.  District Attorney Kari Brandenburg did a fantastic job of disputing his testimony while he was on the stand.  In fact, Brandenburg was successful enough to convince a jury to convict.  As a journalist, I wanted the opportunity to talk to Astorga and ask my own questions. He didn’t respond to my letter until July 2013.  At that point, I worked with the N.M. Department of Corrections and set the interview up.  

It became increasingly apparent that Astorga was putting on a show for my camera crew and I.  He was calm, refused to get rattled, and proclaimed his innocence stating that his convictions were a result of a vast government conspiracy.  I had done my homework and knew that facts of the case.  I was able to contradict his statements and see through his lies.  That’s what a trained reporter does.  

I worked with my management team on finding the most appropriate time to air this story.  We didn’t hold it for the next ratings period as some other stations would have done.  We gave it thought.  We made sure the story didn’t air during the week of Deputy James McGrane’s birthday or during the time the McGrane Family was planning a benefit dinner to raise money for their class that teaches officer survival training.   We found a neutral night that didn’t carry any significant anniversary or emotional impact.

It’s important that I tell you I spoke with Deputy McGrane’s father about the story.  I was completely honest about the content of the interview and what our focus would be.  We had a lengthy phone conversation and at the end I accepted he and his wife Rita were no longer interested in media interviews.  Mr. McGrane explained that he and his wife are still dealing with the grief and the horror of losing their son, and it wouldn’t be in their best interest to do yet another interview.  The McGrane Family has suffered enough and I cannot put into words the amount of respect I have for them.  They are courageous, kind-hearted, and have shown our community incredible resilience.  

I have received personal emails and messages from many in the community asking for an explanation on our decision to interview Astorga.  I hope this helps explain some of the back-story.  And I hope based on the story you watch, you can see that KOB-TV took every effort to ensure that we did NOT give a 2-time convicted killer a platform to spew whatever he wanted.  We were thoughtful in our approach and through every step along the way we considered the impact of this man’s crimes on our community. 

As a journalist, I will never shy away from a tough assignment or a difficult interview, but I promise to be transparent with my motives and reasoning to you—our viewer.

If there is anything positive that has come from this tragedy, it’s the creation of an officer survival training course.  The McGrane Family set up the annual class and through the years hundreds of officers around New Mexico have learned invaluable survival skills.  I hope you would consider making a donation so that more officers can receive this training.  Please visit this website and donate:

http://deputymcgrane.com/

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